Supreme Court leaves Ohio voting restrictions in place

September 13, 2016 11:16 AM EDT

Voters cast their ballots at Legend Elementary School during the U.S. presidential election in Newark, Ohio November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan


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By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to reinstate for the Nov. 8 general election Ohio's "Golden Week", which had allowed voters to register and cast ballots within the same seven-day period before it was repealed by a Republican-backed law two years ago.

Ohio Democrats had challenged the repeal on grounds that it discriminated against black voters, and had taken their case to the nation's highest court after the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against them in August.

The law was one of numerous measures enacted in recent years in Republican-governed states that Democrats and civil rights activists have said were intended to hamper voters, including African-Americans and Hispanics, who tend to favor Democratic candidates.

"Ohio Republicans can keep trying to make it harder for people to vote, but we will continue to fight them at every turn," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, countered that state election laws had made Ohio less vulnerable to voter fraud and "one of the easiest states in the nation in which to register and cast your ballot."

The appeals court had reversed a May ruling by a U.S. district judge who blocked repeal of Golden Week, finding that the 2014 law violated voters' rights.

The Supreme Court's brief order did not note any dissenting votes on the short-handed eight-member court, evenly divided between liberal and conservative justices.

Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature abolished Golden Week while also shortening the state's early-voting period, during which ballots could be cast before an election, to four weeks from five weeks. Ohio often is a pivotal state in U.S. presidential elections.

In a separate Ohio voting-rights case decided on Tuesday by the 6th Circuit, a three-judge panel issued a split ruling.

Siding with a lower court, the appeals panel struck down a 2014 requirement that local election officials toss out absentee and provisional ballots if they contain an address or birth date that fails to perfectly match voting records.

But the panel reversed the lower court in upholding provisions restricting the assistance that poll workers can offer voters and reducing the number of days absentee voters have to remedy identification-envelope errors.

Golden Week was created to make it easier to vote in Ohio after lengthy lines at polling locations marred the 2004 election. In 2008, 60,000 people voted during Golden Week, and 80,000 did so in 2012.

The law erasing Golden Week was initially challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 2014, in an earlier round of litigation, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the repeal to take effect for that year's election.

The case is one of several voting disputes being litigated ahead of the November election and is the third application for emergency action to reach the Supreme Court in recent weeks from three different states. The justices have rejected all three.

On Aug. 31, the court rejected a bid by North Carolina to reinstate several voting restrictions, including a requirement that people show identification at the polls.

Last Friday, the court rejected an effort by Michigan to reinstate a ban on "straight ticket" voting, the practice of using one mark to vote for all candidates from one party.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by Will Dunham)



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